Rusty Streams and Clear Lakes in Northern Maine

Some of the most amazing adventures we have had so far happened at Gorman Chairback! Gorman Chairback is an Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) hut in a township of Northern Maine, near Katahdin Iron Works.  We learned about the effects of iron-mining pollution on local organisms with our guest professor, Dr. Emily Lesher.  We sampled 3 different areas and used special nets to collect microinvertebrates (bugs), before recording how many we found. We also took pH levels of those areas and found out that the area with the most iron pollution had the least amount of organisms living there and the lowest pH values (i.e., more acidic) than the other places.  It was interesting to see that there was more algae in the polluted stream than in the better water, probably because the microinvertebrates that graze on the algae couldn’t survive in the polluted stream. I (Nhu) fell into the stream while wearing waders, which ended up filling with water.  So that was an experience!

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At Gorman Chairback, we also went canoeing on their incredible lake, as well as paddle-boarding, kayaking, and swimming.  The food there was beyond our expectations.  It was so delicious and great.  They used fresh produce from their gardens that they picked half an hour before dinnertime.  They made their own bread for everyone’s lunches every single day.  Some of the things we got to eat were: beef brisket, chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting, grilled vegetables, raspberry pie, almond pastries, and so much more! They had a sauna, really great (and warm!) showers, and composting toilets.  What was really cool was that they only use solar, propane, and wood as their only sources of energy, since they are 100% off the grid.

Erin and the two of us stayed in our own cabin right on the lake.  It was the best night of sleep yet!  There was a woodstove, two beds, paintings on the walls made by past guests, branches for hooks on the walls, a wash basin with a matching pitcher, windows, and a great view of the lake when you woke up. Both mornings, we awoke to the sound of loons and at night time,  we watched the moon reflected off of the lake like a mirror.  It was so serene.


On the last day, hours before we left for the White Mountains, the majority of us went out by either a kayak or a canoe to a far off island on the other side of the lake.  Some of us explored the island briefly, and found that it actually had a house on it.  As we were coming back, Dr. Erikson suggested a balancing game in the middle of the lake.  The object was to stand up in your kayak or canoe, without falling into the water. Dr. Erikson went first, and flipped his.  With the help of Bobby, Erin, and Ayla, he was able to empty out the water that had started filling his kayak and get back in.  Next, Bobby attempted doing the same, and was successful in almost standing in the kayak, without flipping it.  Ayla tried it next, and did the best, as she completely stood straight up in her kayak and sat back down, all without getting any water on her.  We all shared some laughs and headed back to pack the van.


We stopped for ice cream at Gifford’s Ice Cream in Farmington, Maine.  It was so good, because it was a hot day, and we had been all cramped in the van for a while. We were ready to go off to our next destination classroom, the White Mountains of New Hampshire!

– Nhu and Courtney